Creating New Habits: Sticking to Resolutions in (and Outside) the Workplace

It’s a new year, a chance to have a clean slate. As humans, we want to make the most of this clean start to a fresh new year. What better way to start a new year out by analyzing what we did wrong last year and vowing to fix it in the coming year.

New Year’s Resolutions.


They can be personal or professional, secret or open for the world to know. They’re made with the best of intentions and the strongest of convictions.

And yet, only 8% of those that make resolutions will actually succeed.

Why do we tend to fail? What takes us from being hopeful and determined to slowly giving up? and how can we get those resolutions to stick?

In the 1970’s, a book called PsychoCyberkinetics by Maxwell Maltz sent a popular notion out into society: It takes three weeks to create a habit and three days to break one.

It’s a catchy saying and for some people, 21 days is ample time to create a habit. However, according to a 2009 study, the time it takes to form a habit really isn’t that clear-cut. Researchers from University College London examined the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks, and found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days; furthermore, individual times varied from 18 to a whopping 254 days.

So, on New Year’s Day, the odds are against us already. We may vow to be better at our jobs, to find a way to improve our processes or work habits but while many will try, most will fail.

So how can we avoid this? How can we truly make a resolution that will stick?

There are several ways to help turn these resolutions into habits that then become processes and practices. It’s not easy but then, if it was, we would already be doing them.

The key to success is being realistic. The resolutions we make should be attainable. It may not be flashy but it’s time to “think small.” Don’t make five-year goals; start with goals that you can attain this year, that are realistic based on your current position and situation. While it’s still nice to dream and plan for the long-term future, resolutions are really about what we can improve/enhance now.  Make your resolutions things that you know you could do if you worked on them every day. Be ambitious but…say it with me now…keep it realistic.

Another key to success is creating a plan of action. Much like resolving to be healthier and lose weight requires a diet and exercise plan, workplace resolutions need the same type of attention. A step-by-step strategy will definitely help. Not only will it help you set your tasks and goals in a logical manner but it’s also a tangible, concrete roadmap to how you can succeed. For example, if your goal is to connect more with peers and supervisors, develop a strategy to help you. It may involve getting to know them better, which can be accomplished during lunches or watercooler conversations. No matter your goal, a plan of action is vital to success.

No man is an island, as the saying goes. This applies to all aspects of life, but we can apply it to achieving success with resolutions. For the most part, we are not alone. We work with other people. We interact with them via phone, email and in-person. Utilizing some of these people to help with your resolutions is another helpful tip–use your network for encouragement. If possible, set goals together so you can help each other reach them. If you’re a lone wolf, this might be harder but there is usually someone around to help you. And, if not, try something new–email yourself as if you’re talking to someone else and discuss your goals there! Be creative but try to recruit some support.

One of the more crucial tricks to succeeding with a resolution is setting milestones. Set a reminder on your calendar or make a recurring meeting on a regular basis so you can stop and see how you’re doing. Are you keeping your resolution?


There’s nothing quite like an Outlook chime on your calendar telling you that you’ve got something scheduled to make you realize you…have something scheduled. Let it be a resolution milestone.

Finally, with these milestones, it’s important to keep perspective. Don’t be too harsh on yourself! Keep moving forward but if you find that you’re not making the progress you hoped, move forward anyway. Don’t talk yourself out of your resolution! Even if it’s two steps forward, one step back, you’re still one step ahead of where you were. If something is important enough for you to resolve to improve it, it’s worth the work.

New Year’s resolutions create a lot of pressure. This is why so many people don’t even bother with them. They know they’re not likely to stick, that they’re caught up in the tradition of the start of a new calendar. Yet it is a good time to think about moving forward precisely because it can be a fresh new start. On the other hand, resolutions should not just be limited to New Years. There is always room for improvement, to fix things we aren’t happy with both in the workplace or outside of it.

It’s not an easy task, to change habits and patterns. But be a rebel, vow to succeed!

Or make a resolution and use the tips above.

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